Zoo Director Dennis Kelly announced the names chosen through an online naming contest held last week on the Zoo's website. The contest allowed the public to choose from a list of four choices for the male cub and four for the female cub.
Chaska,the dawn star,won the female contest by a mere 72 votes of 5,000,and Bernardo,meaning brave like a bear,won the male contest with 42 percent of the vote.
Angelo Rivero-Santos,charge d'affairs from the Embassy of Venezuela,and Fernando Quiros,deputy chief of mission at the Embassy of Peru,spoke at the ceremony because Andean bears,also called spectacled bears,live in the Andes mountain range in South America,including Venezuela and Peru.
The Peruvian embassy suggested Chaska,and a zoo staff member suggested Bernardo,the first name of Venezuela's ambassador.
The twin cubs were born at the zoo to 4-year-old Billie Jean over a 24 hours on Jan. 14 and Jan. 15. They've been in seclusion since.
At birth,they weighed a furry 10 to 18 ounces. Bernardo now weighs 17 pounds,and Chaska weighs 14 pounds. Adult males can weigh up to 340 pounds. Females rarely exceed 180. Adults are usually 5 to 6 feet long.
Andean bears are mostly nocturnal and spend a lot of time in trees. In the wild,Andean bears eat plants,berries,grasses,bulbs,cactus flower,insects and small animals. At the zoo,they eat a dry chow plus vegetables and fruits.
The Andean bear is listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of threatened animals. Kelly said that this was truly special event because there are not many Andean bears in North America.
“The National Zoo has not had Andean bear cubs for 22 years,” Kelly said. “In the last five years,there have been no Andean bear cubs to survive. The last bear cub to survive in North America before these two was Billie Jean,their mother.”
The cubs and their mother and father,Nikki,live at the zoo's Andean bear exhibit in the Beaver Valley section.
Kelly said Nikki came to the zoo severely overweight three years ago and was put on a weight-loss plan. Nikki safely lost almost 200 pounds in a year – boosting his physical ability for breeding.
“Billie Jean and Nikki as a couple got along famously from the get-go,” Kelly said. “They finally got together and bred last summer – maybe it was because Nikki had lost all that weight.”
Tracey Barnes,an animal keeper at the zoo,said it is easy for her to distinguish between the two cubs.
“The male cub has spiky eyebrows,” Barnes said. “More like Andy Rooney eyebrows – they're thick and bushy. Female eyebrows are smooth,” she said.
The Andean bears and cubs will make their public debut Saturday.